A radiant Hayden Panettiere is all smiles as she meets the Hollywood Foreign Press in Nashville, Tennessee. But life hasn’t always been a bed roses for her.
Acting since she was 11 months old, Panettiere was repeatedly subjected to scorn and derision by her schoolmates. As early as the first grade she was met with snide comments like, “Why does she get to skip school?” And later in middle school, she was punched in the face by an angry classmate.
But then at age 16, when she was cast as the invincible cheerleader in the hit TV series Heroes, and became an overnight star, the actress could put all that behind her.
She was romantically linked with her Heroes co-star Milo Ventimiglia, which they kept secret until photos of them dating were published in tabloids. However, the two denied there was any romance. Then there were photographs of her back-oiled on a yacht at the Riviera by 32-year-old Welsh TV star Steve Jones, who has previously been romantically linked to Pamela Anderson and Halle Berry.
Five years ago, she finally met the love of her life, once again a public figure: the charismatic world heavyweight boxing champion from Ukraine, Wladimir Klitschko. Although it was a turbulent courtship, the two of them announced their engagement last October, and months later confirmed that they are expecting a daughter.
Meanwhile, after years of failed projects, Panettiere’s career suddenly hit its stride. Cast as Connie Britten’s rival in the hit TV series Nashville, the 25-year-old is such an essential part of the show, the producers agreed to incorporate her pregnancy into the story line of her character.
How is the pregnancy going?
Actually it’s been really great. First trimester you’re definitely sleepy, definitely exhausted, but I don’t even think it hit me quite as hard because I’m used to feeling that way. I have been craving salt so I’ve lived on chicken noodle soup. I have gained – I started out 106lbs (48kg). Guess how much I weigh now? I’m 145lbs (66kg) but my feet are still a size 5.
Will Wladimir be joining you in Nashville?
No, he’s in Europe, but there’s a reason he’s not here. I wish he were. He’s such a resilient guy. He is so calm and so patient – he has never raised his voice. He just remains quiet and calm and easy, and I get to sit there and use him as a punching bag (laughs).
How tough was it letting the Nashville production team know you’re pregnant?
It was tough because in the beginning you have to wait. You have to wait at least 12 weeks because you’re very much in the strike zone. So that was tough, but when I finally did tell them, they had time enough to write (the pregnancy) into the show.
So, who is father on the show?
They won’t tell me! The script writers have a few tricks up their sleeves.
How are you coping with the paparazzi, who are always on your trail?
Fortunately in Nashville you don’t really have to deal with them. But you have to get very protective of yourself. And when there are crowds pushing channelled in front of you, you definitely go into a mother bear mode. But I’m not hiding it neither am I creating more tension where they want to get at you even more because you’re not giving them what they want or what they think the public wants. So I’m a happy medium.
How similar are you to the character you play in Nashville?
I love this role, and I feel I can relate so much because I was a young girl growing up in this industry. I have definitely made my share of mistakes, whether in public or behind closed doors so I can relate to her.
And like your character Juliette, were you burned by the media as well?
Oh, absolutely. People had very preconceived notions about the kind of person I was supposed to be. Guilt by association. I came up in the generation of the wild child. People my age were making very public mistakes or decisions and choices, and that’s what I was supposed to be doing.
So when I was 16, and Heroes came into play, literally overnight I had all that attention on me. They were waiting for me to fall on my face, make the same mistake that a lot of people had made. I’ve had to fight against stereotyping for a very, very, very long time. I don’t know that I’ve overcome it yet.
Boxing is such a brutal sport. Are you secretly hoping Wladimir will quit after the baby is born?
I want him to do whatever he wants to do. I think a great relationship is when you each have your own individual goals and lives, and they meet gracefully in the middle. I would never want to be the reason why he quit – that’s his choice and his call.
I’ve seen this man over the past five or six years become better and better at what he does in a sport where getting older usually diminishes you. And boxing is not only about the physicality of it; the mental strength is equally important, and both of those things are just now being perfected by him.
I have so much respect for him, for what he does, his wisdom. He’ll know when it’s time – he’s a big boy. He can take care of himself. I have that kind of faith in him, and when he fights I’ll be there as his biggest fan.
Are you guys planning a wedding in the Ukraine?
Right now with everything that’s going on, it’s like the farthest thing from my mind. It’ll happen when it happens. Take my word for it. I am not walking down the aisle 40lbs (18kg) overweight in a wedding dress. Not happening.